Short History of El Paseo Lane
We love the natural environment and building complex of our shop location at 11 Throckmorton Avenue and El Paseo Lane in Mill Valley. It has a storied history, as compiled by the Mill Valley Public Library, its oral history committee, and the Lucretia Little History Room. We've taken some excerpts and paraphrased from their accounts as well as others we've read and been told along the way.
In 1936 Edna Foster, a dreamer and community activist, so annoyed by the disrepair of the building at 15 Throckmorton, and as the lore goes, the activities of the mill workers who lived in the apartments (drinking, gambling, + other [ahem] activities), that she said to her husband Henry, “My, I wish somebody would buy that ugly old building and do something with it!” In 1938, that somebody would become Edna and Henry.
They bought the historic Holtum Building at 11-17 Throckmorton Avenue (which currently houses Poet and/the Bench, a few other shops and the restaurant Paseo), as well as the property behind that extends to Sunnyside Avenue.
Edna conceived that El Paseo (her name for the complex using the Spanish word paseo, meaning "scenic path") could be a place where artists and craftsmen could live, create and show their work (sounds familiar!!).
In 1940, renovation began under architect Augustus (Gus) Costigan who shared Edna’s vision of an Old World passageway of shops and art galleries… like the pathways of a Spanish town, which had, according to Edna, “charm and interest enough for the señors to take their señoritas out for a stroll.” Together, they designed an adjoining complex of buildings, courts and gardens on either side of the El Paseo passageway running from Throckmorton to Sunnyside Avenues.
Construction was completed in 1948 with a grand opening at which, the architect, Gus Costigan and those who had worked with him, presented a shrine with a mosaic of St. Francis, made by Alyn Stretter, to El Paseo. It remains today, amidst what we have designed as our inspiration stations in collaboration with The Hivery.
Poet and/the Bench facing El Paseo Lane
Poet and/the Bench and The Hivery Inspiration Stations in El Paseo Lane
While working with the Army Combat Engineers in Italy, Gus often worked by candlelight at nights from foxholes or basements of bombed-out buildings on the plans for El Paseo. The influence of Italian architecture from this time is evident. They used adobe bricks from Mexico, huge beams from an old building at Fort Cronkhite (which Mr. Foster hand carved); rail ties from the Scenic railway; and wrought iron fixtures from the Guatemala Building at the World Fair on Treasure Island.
One of the decisions they made is beloved by us and all who walk the lane: they designed the El Paseo pathway with a natural slope toward its center to suggest years of foot traffic by sandal-shod padres.
A Winter Scene at Poet and/the Bench on El Paseo Lane
It's fun to note that Edna's love affair with Mill Valley begun in 1912 with a hike up Mount Tamalpais. "We came from Berkeley to San Francisco by the Key System train and the ferry. From the San Francisco Ferry Building we took the ferry to Sausalito and the electric train to Mill Valley. The train conductor announced, 'Mill Valley Beautiful,' and we got off," she recounted in an oral history.
We love that we’re carrying out the 84 year old spirit of Edna’s vision, a community project with a history we can feel in our bones. So, like Edna and Henry, come stroll the lane and step inside to visit our modern version of the artist colony.
~ Bonnie & Jeffrey